Category Archives: Uncategorized

Werent we just talking about this?!!

And so it begins: we talk about something in class, then it shows up in the news!  In response to a study linking student performance in high school to sleep, British schools are experimenting with a 10am start time.  A nod to the teenage body clock instead of the standard routine is quite a departure.  You can read about this in the BBC here.  You see, anthropology can be applied all over the place, not just in the classroom. 

Enjoy your first week of classes!

Curious about my work in Italy with shepherds?!

One of the days of my recent workshop in southern Italy was spent making cheese in an old shepherd’s house, abandoned for over 150 years but reborn as a place to make and talk about cheese and the people that have produced it for centuries.  At one point, as we waited for the fresh milk to get heated to the right temperature, we stepped out of the house into the field and saw a flock of sheep grazing their way towards us on the opposite hill.  It was a beautiful sight that clearly highlighted the connections between humans, landscape, and food traditions.  There were two journalists with us that day, and they have published this web article about their impressions.  I am proud to have offered the structure for heir article, one of my contributions that day was a lecture on shepherding, religion and economics.  While I am thrilled that the article makes our workshop sound good, as an anthropologist I have one beef: the title.  The shepherds do not need to be rescued; salvation can sound quite paternalistic and makes individuals sound passive and unable to help themselves.  I think a much better term is “support”, which is absolutely in keeping with the philosophy of the Messors workshops.  They need and deserve our support, which  can come in a number of different ways, often dictated by them; they do not need to be rescued by a bunch of foreigners!

Mario and Natasha brought their sheep by for a visit while we made cheese and had a picnic lunch at Fornello

Immigrant labour and Italian food culture

 One of the many interesting things I learned in my recent work in southern Italy is that increasingly the menial jobs of agriculture, like shepherding and dairying, is being done by immigrants.  In part this is because of a shared knowledge base around animals and agriculture, but it also reminds me of immigrant realities here in Canada: immigrants take these jobs because natives (Italians in this case) do not want them.  These jobs are undervalued because prices are very low for items like sheep’s milk, so shepherds aren’t exactly making a huge salary.  It is also demanding work, with early mornings and few days off.  I was interested to read about these issues in the Po Valley, in central Italy, the homeland of parmesan.  This BBC article does a great job of summarizing this fascinating mash up of tradition and modernity.

Sheep are herded across the Murgia Plateau in southern Italy by Mario, a shepherd from Romania, and his sheepdog Natasha

A fascinating time to contemplate racial identity

What is race, and what does it mean?!  Big questions in anthropology classes for sure, but now I am interested to see it play out in the media.  An unusual story to be sure, but Rachel Dolezal’s declaration that she self-identifies as Black makes me think of the cultural construction of race, the  history of  racial prejudice on biological grounds, White privilege and the complex construction of identities in  a modern world.  Check out Neil McDonald’s analysis for the CBC and see what you think.

guys please help me - is this dress white and gold, or blue and black? Me and my friends can’t agree and we are freaking the fuck out

Shades of the “What colour is this dress?” debate of earlier this spring?!

Cheese and the French Paradox

The French should suffer from much higher rates of cardio-vascular disease and obesity than they do.  They eat much more saturated fat than is recommended by the WHO, and wash it down with luscious red wine.  This has been called the French Paradox, still not well understood but interesting and the subject of ongoing inquiry.  Here is a short article that presents the findings of a small study suggesting that a key to the French Paradox is eating cheese.  I find this particularly interesting given the recent conversations about consuming dairy, spurred by a controversial new book by Alissa Hamilton called Got Milked? The Great Dairy Deception and Why You’ll Thrive Without Milk.  (You can read about her book in a recent Globe and Mail article posted here).

Archaeological vandalism and the control of the past in the present

When the Catholic missionaries arrived in the Americas, it was common practice to demolish indigenous temples (now considered archaeological sites protected by various forms of legislation) and reuse the building materials to construct a church in the same location.  Some of the most poignant visuals of the Talaban’s propaganda machine in action in 2001 was the dramatic destruction of gigantic statues of Buddha (although this New York times article providing the Taliban’s side of the story is quite fascinating, as is this NBC article about the plan to reconstruct them).  Museums have been targets for looting and desecration in both the 2002 Iraq war and recent uprisings like Egypt’s Arab Spring, indicating the power of the Past and what the heritage preserved in museums represents to the public.  In yet another example of the destruction of heritage fuelled by contemporary agendas, we are now hearing about ISIS’s destruction of heritage sites in what has been dubbed “the cradle of civilization’.  Quirks and Quarks host Bob McDonald has written about this in his blog this week and offers an excellent overview of this issue, and reminds us of the power of the past and the need to control it to shape the narratives of the present.

The Church and Convent of Santo Domingo sits atop the Incan ruins of Qoricancha in Cusco

The Bamiyan Budda, before and after

More information about the ongoing Franklin expedition archaeology in Canada’s north

This happens to me all the time: I talk about something in class, and then the topic comes up in the media.  In yesterday’s Times Colonist Jack Knox wrote an article about the Coast Guard getting recognized for their role in the discovery of the HMS Erebus.  I then came across a press release from the priminister’s office from March 4 indicating that a spring dive project is in the works, creating an opportunity to explore the wreck and do some preliminary reconnaissance (isn’t it interesting that Harper and his wife received medals from the Canadian Geographic Society as recognition for their role in this historic find?!)

Gastronomic Columbusing?

I have just learned a new term: Columbusing.  Perhaps you have noticed that I am uncomfortable with the idea that Columbus “discovered” the Americas, which suggests that the New World was empty, or just plain didn’t exist until it was found by Europeans.  “To Columbus” is to find something that has been important in another cultural context for generations and present it as your own discovery.  The debate is whether this is cultural appropriation or just fusion and cultural cross pollination, which happens all the time with food.   Check out the latest bru ha ha, that involves artisan ghee in Toronto, made by a non South-Asian who decorates the jars with scraps of old saris.  Op ed columnist Shireen Ahmed brings enough humour to the issue to make you think!

Want to be a farmer in your own living room?!

We didn’t have a chance to watch this short TED talk by Brita Riley in ANTH 204 this week, so I post it here for those who are interested.  Her company, Windowfarms is innovative and she makes some thoughtful points about empowering consumers, agency, and food security.  Maybe you will be inspired to take some of the open source plans and build a unit of your own; if you do, I would love to hear about it!

March 25: Heinz Kraft Co. becomes the 5th largest food producing company in the world

Maybe you noticed this in the news today.  Maybe you didn’t.  This $40 billion acquisition will very likely affect the food system that you depend on, a food system that is seeing the consolidation of power in the hands of fewer and fewer giant corporations.  This image (originally produced by Business Insider but now duplicated in many places on the Internet) is a good visual of the top 10 US companies and the complex web that is quite invisible to consumers.  Combined, these 10 companies control 70% of the industrial food system in North America.  If you eat food, you should be interested in this.